Ignoring pleas for mercy by defense attorneys, Circuit Judge Janine Kern sentenced 23-year-old Nico Steele on Monday to 15 years in prison for a knife attack on three homeless veterans on Main Street in Rapid City last summer.
Prosecutors say Steele stabbed two men outside the VFW at 420 Main St. on Aug. 15.; he also threatened a third man.
Steele was intoxicated when he confronted the men and turned violent when they refused to give him a cigarette, according to police reports.
Steele's first victim escaped unscathed after meeting him on the street while he was returning from a job cleaning up trash downtown.
The two stabbing victims had spent the day working at the VFW and were sitting outside relaxing when Steele approached them, according to Pennington County Deputy State's Attorney Gina Nelson. One of the victims was stabbed trying to protect his co-worker.
Steele refused to negotiate a plea and a jury recently convicted him of three counts of aggravated assault and possession of a controlled substance.
At Steele's sentencing, Nelson conceded that Steele's upbringing was "tough, several of his brothers and sisters have been in jail," she said.
Steele's mother, Carol Goodman, told Kern that gangs and violence are a "mother's worst nightmare." A brother, Les, also joined his mother in asking Kern to consider a probationary sentence.
Public defender Jamy Patterson described her client as a "rare, unique and incredibly beautiful human being, deserving of another chance." Time in jail and the birth of a daughter have changed Steele, who also married while in custody, she said.
Nelson, however, reminded Kern that Steele has a prior felony conviction for threatening a law enforcement officer.
The defendant has never accepted responsibility for what was an "extremely violent crime" in the middle of the tourist season in downtown Rapid City, Nelson said
"It's fortunate the stabbing did not take a life," Nelson said, asking Kern for a prison sentence.
"Your life is out of control. You're fortunate they were able to fend you off," Kern told Steele.
Kern ordered Steele to serve three concurrent 15-year sentences for each aggravated assault charge, but suspended the execution of 10 years on one of the sentences.
Steele also received a 5-year sentence for possession of a controlled substance. All of the sentences will be served concurrently. He must serve 60 percent of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole because of a prior felony conviction.